Barry Carter reveals his New Year Resolution to block distractions like Twitter and why it is affecting his poker more than you might think.
I have quite a few goals for 2022 but the nearest thing I have to a New Year’s Resolution is to check Twitter less. I’m afraid I have developed a bad habit since the pandemic started of checking in, a lot, to see if anyone has ‘liked’ my latest joke on the platform (you should give me a follow I am very funny). I’m not checking in to see the latest gossip, I am literally seeing if anyone liked my jokes.
It’s a terrible habit because it is a distraction and also very narcissistic (see my last comment where I brag about how funny I am). I already knew that a simple distraction, no matter how small or quick, can prevent you from being fully focussed for a significant amount of time afterwards.
I’d already resolved to do this and had taken the aggressive step of blocking Twitter from all my devices until late afternoon every day including weekends, using the Freedom app. However, I am currently reading the new book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari and a particular section made me realise this habit has likely been affecting my poker game.
If you can’t read the whole book, the interview with the author below is well worth your (uninterrupted) time:
A strategy leak or a focus leak?
Twitter is not good for your attention
If I were to identify my biggest leak at the moment as a player it would be a working memory issue, namely that I have started to ‘forget’ the action on previous streets. I will, for example, find myself facing a turn bet and cannot remember whether the Villain had bet the flop. Or I will find myself on the turn having made a flop bet myself and acting without putting my opponent on a flop calling range.
I have been playing cash games lately for a new book project and reasoned that this leak developed because I spent all the last three years playing shallow stack MTTs where turn and river bets were less of a thing. I therefore just needed to ‘train’ my thought process better on later streets. This still might be true.
I do, however, find myself checking Twitter midway in sessions. In the evenings I also find my elderly dog wants to play with me and two or three times in a session I will play with him briefly while trying to keep one eye on my tables.
Distraction and short term memory
You cant think deeply and check your phone at the same time
This quote from Stolen Focus now makes me think something else might be happening with my turn/river leaks, it is in relation to how difficult it is to maintain focus on one task when a distraction appears:
Your mind, given free undistracted time, will automatically think back over everything it absorbed, and it will start to draw links between them in new ways. This all takes place beneath the level of your conscious mind, but this process is how ‘new ideas pop together, and suddenly, two thoughts that you didn’t think had a relationship suddenly have a relationship’. A new idea is born. But if you ‘spend a lot of this brain-processing time switching and error-correcting’ [..] you are simply giving your brain less opportunity to ‘follow your associative links down to new places and really [have] truly original and creative thoughts’.
The same chapter also highlighted a UCLA study where people who tried to complete tasks while multi tasking could not remember what they had just done as well as people without any distractions. This is because it takes mental energy and space to convert experiences to memory, so if you switch between tasks you will remember less.
I think I have got away with being distracted to some degree playing MTTs because shallow stack decisions are simpler (before perhaps the ICM stages) and I have automated them better than turn and river spots. Clearly improving my turn and river strategy will help, but it seems removing distractions will have the most immediate impact on my game, because I am literally ‘forgetting’ previous streets almost as soon as I have played them.
I plan on writing more about the war on attention because I think poker players are particularly prone to this issue, especially those who either play lots of tables or have to concentrate hard in live games. One tiny disruption seemingly could have a profound impact on your game.
How do you manage your attention while you play poker? Let us know in the comments:
Barry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2, Poker Satellite Strategy, PKO Poker Strategy & the new book Endgame Poker Strategy